Taking a leading role to save lives in the Covid-19 pandemic

At Provide Digital we have created and deployed software and apps that have made a tangible difference to the medical profession and its patients. But among our proudest achievement, was our work on streamlining services during the pandemic to save lives. Here Paul Twyman,  Managing Director of Provide Digital explains.

A survey by thinktank McKinsey carried out in 2020 found that responses to Covid-19 have speeded up the adoption of digital technologies by several years – with many of these changes here for the long haul.

The study found that companies have accelerated the digitisation of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years. And the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by seven years.

Nearly all respondents said their companies had stood up at least temporary solutions to meet many of the new demands on them, and much more quickly than they had thought possible.

What’s more, respondents expected most of these changes to be long lasting and were making the kinds of investments that all but ensure they will stick.

In the healthcare sector, digitisation has always been a slow burner despite the fact that technology goals, such as accurate patient information, linked patient records, interoperability and cybersecurity were at the forefront of healthcare concerns.

What the pandemic did however, was amplify the need for these technologies to become realities.

And as a result, some trusts had to undertake rapid technology adoptions to free up space and capacity in acute hospitals, enable remote working and reduce the risk of infection transmission in NHS settings.

We were proudly at the forefront of this in Essex.

When the Covid pandemic struck, we created and launched the Bed Bureau System over a single weekend.

The software provided the Mid and South Essex NHS Trust with bed management online that allowed medical staff to quickly determine where beds were available in community hospitals as the pandemic escalated.

It tracked availability of beds on a public dashboard, kept users updated with information about open beds and unavailable beds and even determined male and female ward space and categorising infections through a red, amber and green system.

While other hospitals around the country had Covid patients lining up in beds down corridors and were plagued with horrific images and stories splashed across the national press, Essex were able to efficiently manage the flow of patients and access resources they had previously had no comprehensive knowledge of.

Another of our Covid-19 apps streamlined the process for frontline staff to report on lateral flow test results which were then uploaded officially to Public Health England.

Provide My Results meant all staff in Essex had a smart app or desktop access with personal logins and could input the date their lateral flow test was performed, the time, the specimen ID, the result and add any comments.

After collecting information, a daily report could be compiled by the business intelligence team to send to Public Health England by the push of a button rather than having to collect, validate and merge  several 100’s of pieces of separate individuals data each and every day on the pandemic.

Similarly, to our Bed Bureau System, Provide My Staff was developed over a single weekend, allowing easy deployment of our frontline colleagues to increase the capacity in critical areas during the pandemic.

All eligible staff – which totally more than 1,200 – were uploaded to one platform which also listed their experience and skills. From here, you could redeploy a member of staff instantly and the individual, their line manager and the ward would be notified immediately.

Nationally, technology took a leap and bound forward at the same time as our work was implemented.

The NHS 111 online service was launched at the start of March 2020 to provide increased capacity for people needing advice about coronavirus, and to free up NHS 111 call handlers’ time and in July, Your COVID Recovery, an online portal providing information and personalised support programmes, was launched to help people recovering from the long-term effects of the virus

In March 2020, registrations to the NHS App (which enables people to access a range of NHS services on their smartphone or tablet) increased by 111% as guidance was issued to primary care providers, stating that all patients should be triaged before an appointment, ideally through an online consultation.

At a simple level, necessity was the driver in the huge increase in the use of digital technology. The introduction of lockdown, requirements for social distancing and guidance for people to work remotely as far as possible all contributed to the need to rapidly change the way the NHS was delivering care.

But as chief executive of the NHS Digital Academy, Rachel Dunscombe, put it: “people have seen up close the art of the possible”.

The experience of Covid-19 highlighted that NHS services can be radically redesigned in a short space of time and digital technology has enabled the changes we have seen to occur.

We now need to maintain the positive work that has come out of the crisis to continue to develop sustainable approaches that consider how to finance and embed the most effective digital solutions, backed by robust research and evaluation.

That’s where we come in.



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